Half of Texas CPS 10 regional directors
are fired or retire
AUSTIN, TX – Half of the 10 people who run Texas Child Protective Services’ regional offices have been fired or have retired, an agency spokesman confirmed Tuesday.
George Cannata, who runs the North Texas or Region 3 office in Arlington, will keep the director job he was given last spring.
But five others will be replaced, including one in far West Texas who chose to retire rather than reapply for her job and be re-evaluated, CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins said.
In June, newly installed CPS chief Henry “Hank” Whitman, the former head of the Texas Rangers, announced a 10-point plan for improving the agency, which has come under intense fire this year for shoddy case work and poor management.
“A key component of Commissioner Whitman’s 10-point plan … is top-to-bottom accountability, and revamping CPS’ regional leadership is a critically important and very necessary step,” Crimmins said.
On Monday, several House lawmakers criticized leaders of CPS’ parent agency, the Department of Family and Protective Services, for not offering big solutions to the state’s shortcomings in child welfare.
Late Monday, responding to the criticism, Crimmins said that “there is intense activity going on behind the scenes.” He ticked off nine actions and departmental studies that are underway, including Whitman’s June demand that all 10 regional directors reapply for their jobs. Crimmins said a new roster of regional directors would be unveiled soon.
In addition, Crimmins announced that “similar to the regional director review, ALL regional management employees (above caseworker level) are getting evaluations to determine if they are helping caseworkers make correct decisions in the field.”
That includes program directors, program administrators and others who oversee cadres of CPS child-abuse investigators, conservatorship workers and other child-welfare workers and their direct supervisors.
The moves come as the agency faces criticisms about its failure to check out child-abuse tips promptly and properly investigate certain families — largely because of spiraling caseworker turnover, though in some instances workers have compounded the problems by falsifying paperwork.
In the past, the department responded to public outcries over CPS flubs by firing workers and their supervisors. After signs of abuse were missed and Austin toddler Colton Turner died in 2014, a program manager — a mid-level executive — also was fired. But regional director Shelia Brown, the leader for Central Texas or Region 7, survived that incident — until this week’s reshuffling of regional directors, in which she was not reappointed.
Until Whitman took over, the regional directors have never taken the fall, several long-time department employees have noted.
Agency spokesman Crimmins said Diana Barajas, regional director in El Paso, decided to retire rather than reapply for her job.
Whitman and CPS chief Kristene Blackstone have decided to replace directors in South Texas; the Wichita Falls to Abilene portion of northwest Texas; Central Texas; and counties ringing Houston.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth region, Cannata in April replaced Jackie Freeman, who retired after a near-collapse of CPS investigations in Dallas.
Although turnover has declined lately, earlier in the year, CPS child abuse investigators in Dallas County quit at an annual rate of 57 percent. That forced the agency to bring in scores of workers from other parts of Texas to temporarily handle cases.
High turnover, in part caused by low pay, is driving shoddy investigations and has figured in some tragic recent deaths, including that of 4-year-old Leiliana Wright of Grand Prairie, The Dallas Morning News has reported.
Last spring, Cannata took a pay cut to return from state CPS headquarters in Austin to run the regional operation where he’d begun as a CPS caseworker in the 1990s. He had been a deputy assistant commissioner, overseeing data analytics and a new risk-assessment tool used by CPS workers.
While CPS has 11 regional offices, in both East Texas and West Texas, two regions are run by one director. In the Houston region, meanwhile, there’s a regional director for Harris County and another for the outlying counties. Thus statewide, there are 10 directors.
Crimmins said that a proposal to raise regional directors’ pay, disclosed by the Austin American-Statesman in June, remains on hold.